Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Long-eared Ducks

It first happened a good number of years ago, I was returning from a late afternoon fishing trip from Long Island in early January. As I was making my way by boat through Middle Passage, ( a local term for the pass between Norwalk's Shea and Chimmons Islands) I notice something swimming in the water off my port bow. I slowed the boat to a crawl to see what was in the water.
My first thought was that it was four ducks swimming across my path, but there was something very different about these ducks,
they appeared to have ears. Long-eared ducks?
If you are a birder I'm sure your having a good chuckle at this point, since this would be a species never imagined in this area, no less the world. Anus aurismaximus perhaps?
In the diminishing light I slowly cruised closer to these mysterious creatures, the four ducks with long ears are now starting to resemble four deer, that are swimming from island to island.
This was the first time I had ever encountered deer swimming in winter around the islands, but the more time I spent in these wintry islands, the more frequent these sightings became.

The rest of this article is graphic, please do not read on if the sadder parts of nature bother you.

In time, I started thinking about why these deer are swimming from island to island in extremely cold water. Food, it has to be all about food.
Food is plentiful in the summer and autumn as vegetation abounds on the islands, but as winter takes hold, this abundance slowly recedes, to a point where there is little if anything for deer to eat. This is why they are on the move, the only problem is, is that the island they are swimming to has already been scoured of its last food sources and deer that were previously on this next island have moved on. It becomes disheartening to see deer passing each other, searching for food on a island the other has just left.
Sad as it is, this is a part of nature that plays out every day in the New England wild.
It's very hard to watch starving deer swimming against the tide, trying to make the mainland. Deer are incredible swimmers, but weakened by lack of food, freezing water temperatures and a tide they just cannot fight any longer, they turn back to the barren islands.
I often wonder; which are the lucky ones, the deer that safely swim back or those that don't ever make it?

After swimming against the tide for thirty minutes, this one makes it back to Sheffield Is.

Food is scarce in the snow.

Considering eating Phragmite?

He couldn't survive the swim to the mainland.

Neither could this one. Are they the lucky ones?


  1. Again... those are some amazing shots!!! I hope you keep up the blog. Very good stuff.

    I've never seen a deer THAT deep when swimming... but when I used to volunteer at the CT Audubon Coastal Center at Milford Point, I had kinda the same thing. I'm scoping ducks and brant and waders... then I see a head and maybe half of it's neck walking/swimming from the marsh behind the CC to the land across the way.

    Cool stuff, Larry. I especilly like the photo of the doe looking for food in the snow. The expression on it's face says a lot to me. Hunger, fright, desperation, and sadness. It's too bad that so many die just looking for food. But, on the other hand... at least some jerk didn't shoot it. Like the seal at Seaside park a yer or two ago.

    Keep up the good stuff!!!

    BTW.... Goldeneye are moving and Horned Grebes are staging. Charlie and I had 42 at Penfield the other day. That is more than I've ever seen in my life combined!! Keep an eye out next time you're out in the freezing wind and waves.... errr, your boat. =)


  2. I've seen the deer swimming from island to island during summer but not winter. The first time I thought it was a piece of driftwood but with a better view saw that it was the head of a deer.
    Each spring, I do a lot of exploring on the islands and always find a number of deer carcasses. You can smell them if you are downwind from them.
    David Park

  3. David,
    Thanks for the reply, These deer carcasses were all on the south west side of sheffield, they seem to want to make the mainland on outgoing tides,you know what thats like off that point. I guess the ones that drown are the lucky ones, I also walk the islands and see the remains of the starved deer.